Charles Burchfield : early water colors, April 11-April 26 ...Charles Burchfield : early water...

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Charles Burchfield : early water colors, Charles Burchfield : early water colors, April 11-April 26, 1930, Museum of April 11-April 26, 1930, Museum of Modern Art, New York Modern Art, New York Author Burchfield, Charles, 1893-1967 Date 1930 Publisher The Museum of Modern Art Exhibition URL www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1978 The Museum of Modern Art's exhibition history—from our founding in 1929 to the present—is available online. It includes exhibition catalogues, primary documents, installation views, and an index of participating artists. © 2017 The Museum of Modern Art MoMA

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  • Charles Burchfield : early water colors,Charles Burchfield : early water colors,April 11-April 26, 1930, Museum ofApril 11-April 26, 1930, Museum ofModern Art, New YorkModern Art, New York

    AuthorBurchfield, Charles, 1893-1967

    Date1930

    PublisherThe Museum of Modern Art

    Exhibition URLwww.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1978

    The Museum of Modern Art's exhibitionhistory—from our founding in 1929 to thepresent—is available online. It includesexhibition catalogues, primary documents,installation views, and an index ofparticipating artists.

    © 2017 The Museum of Modern ArtMoMA

    https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/1978http://www.moma.org

  • LIBRARY

  • CHARLES BURCHFIELPARLT WATERCOLORS 1916 TO 1918

    EW YORK 710 FIFTH AVENUE

    useum of Modern Art

  • CHARLES BURCHFIELDEARLY WATERCOLORS

    APRIL II 193° APRIL 26

    MUSEUM OF MODERN ART730 FIFTH AVENUE NEW YORK

  • '

  • The exhibition has been selected from the following collections :

    MRS. COURTLANDT D. BARNES, NEW YORK

    MRS. ALICE M. BURCHFI ELD, SALEM, OHIO

    MISS LOUISE M. DUNN, CLEVELAND

    A. CONGER GOODYEAR, NEW YORK

    THOMAS N. METCALF, BOSTON

    FRANK K. M. REHN, NEW YORK

    EDWARD W. ROOT, CLINTON, NEW YORK

    In addition to those who have lent pictures the Trustees and the Staff wish to thank Mr.

    Frank K. M. Rehn, the artist's representative, for his assistance in assembling the exhibition.

    fj~Slb ) V*-

    tin/ri

    ACKNOWLEDGMENT

    TRUSTEES

    A. CONGER GOODYEAR, PRESIDENT

    MISS L. P. BLISS, VICE-PRESIDENT

    MRS. JOHN D. ROCKEFELLER, JR., TREASURER

    SAMUEL A. LEWI SOHN, SECRETARY

    WILLIAM T. ALDRICH

    FREDERIC C. BARTLETT

    STEPHEN C. CLARK

    MRS. W. MURRAY CRANE

    FRANK CROWNINSHIELD

    CHESTER DALE

    DUNCAN PHILLIPS

    MRS. RAINEY ROGERS

    PAUL J. SACHS

    MRS. CORNELIUS J. SULLIVAN

    ALFRED H. BARR, JR., Director

    J ERE ABBOTT, Associate Director

    3

  • INTRODUCTION

    To those who are familiar with Charles Burchfield's mature style his early work now ex

    hibited for the first time must appear surprising and even contradictory.

    In his recent work which has placed him among the most interesting American artists

    Burchfield has examined critically the mid-western town: its houses, its railroad yards and

    eating places, its false fronted stores, Garfield Gothic churches, and telegraph poles con

    fronting their reflections in main street puddles. Satire in which hate and wit are mingled is

    combined with the discovery of picturesque ugliness. In these gray, silver and black water-

    colors that authentically native movement which might be christened American-Scenism is

    seen at its pictorial best.

    In his earlier work we find an astonishingly different spirit. Frequently the same objects

    appear small town, post-Civil War buildings — but they are not so much satirized as eagerly

    accepted as material for romantic composition. A more essential similarity between his familiar

    later work and these early inventions lies in the very fact that in both Burchfield was thor

    oughly interested in subject matter at a time when interest in subject matter was generally

    discredited.

    During this early Romantic Period Burchfield concentrated upon the expression of moods

    and emotions on the one hand, and on the other upon specific forces and even sounds and

    movements of nature. His method was neither vague nor spontaneous as is frequent in ex-

    pressionistic painting, but deliberate and precise. Of the "Night Wind" (No. 26) Burchfield

    writes: "To the child sitting cozily in his home the roar of the wind outside fills his mind full

    of strange visions and phantoms flying over the land." In the painting the patterns which sur

    round the house are of two kinds — the torn black silhouette suggests the terrific force of the

    wind blowing from left to right, while the white wave beyond tosses monstrous half-organic

    arms which threaten to overwhelm the child's home. These two abstract motives of force and

    fear were studied and re-studied in a long series of drawings before they reached completion

    in the finished picture. Similar and equally successful is the uncanny "Church Bells Ringing"

    (No. 17). In the sky are the same menacing waves. The church tower assumes a face like an

    African mask and sways with the swinging spiral motion and sound of the bells. Spiral and

    wave inflect the eaves and windows of the house. The whole scene rocks and quails before the

    horrid clangour. Again invisible sound and the resulting emotion are realized in visual forms.

    More elegiac in mood is the "Garden of Memories" (No. 25) in which an aged woman sits

    5

  • in the tired moonlight while colossal lunar flowers surge and droop about her. The "August

    North" (No. 14) is similar in mood but more direct in statement. In striking contrast is the

    "Song of the Katydids" (No. 18) in which the vibrations of heat, the monotonous vibrations

    of insects, are diagrammed. Houses and trees quiver beneath the hot feet of summer's noon.

    Many of the water colors are less dependent upon expressionistic devices. The haunted

    gloom of the swamp pervades "First Hepaticas" (No. 27) and the "Fallen Tree" (No. 9).

    In the "Rogues' Gallery" (No. 4) and "The Conference" (No. 10) we find a delightful feeling

    for the grotesquely humorous. "Summer Rain" (No. 1) and "Hot Morning Sunlight" (No. 7)

    which come early in the series are frankly decorative, more purely aesthetic in their interest.

    It is impossible to discover any important external influence upon Burchfield's art. These

    watercolors were painted in Salem, Ohio, between 1916 and the early months of 1918. In the

    previous four years he had attended the Cleveland Art School where Henry G. Keller had

    encouraged him to use his imagination rather than to follow the conventional Impressionist

    methods of the period. He was almost completely ignorant of what had happened in Europe.

    He does not remember having seen a Cezanne before 1920. He saw his first van Gogh in 1929.

    He believes that Japanese prints may have had some influence upon his design but cannot

    remember any conscious admiration for Oriental art before 1918. One can only conclude that

    we have in this period of Burchfield's development one of the most isolated and original

    phenomena in American Art.

    Several analogies of course suggest themselves. The patterns of "Night Wind" (No. 26)

    remind one of van Gogh's cloud structures. The vibrations which radiate from the sun in

    "Cat-tails" (No. 3) and from the trees in "Song of the Katydids" (No. 18) also suggest van

    Gogh's drawings as does the muscular activity of the "Beech Trees" (No. 21). But Burchfield's

    invention of abstract motives as direct visual symbols for invisible forces bring him close to

    the technical methods of Chinese and Japanese painting in which clouds, waves, and flames

    are transformed into linear formulae. It is but a short step psychologically from the wind mon

    ster with its saucer eyes (No. 26) to the more highly developed Dragon of water and air which

    appears half submerged in the torrential waterfalls of the Sung painters.

    In several instances our closest analogies are to be found in German and English romantic

    art of the early 19th century. Samuel Palmer might have admired the "Garden of Memories";

    Caspar David Friedrich the "First Hepaticas." In Burchfield's art the "Gothick" moods of

    melancholy and terror are re-born a century later. And curiously enough in such pictures as

    "Wheat field with Tower" (No. n), "Church Bells Ringing" (No. 17) and most strikingly in

  • "Sunday Morning" (No. 12) one feels the influence of the silhouettes, the textures, the Spen-

    cerian flourishes, the very wall-papers and stained glass of the mid- 19th century, assimilated

    (but not consciously admired as they were to be twelve years later in 1930).

    Very curious too is Burchfield's attempt in his early twenties to re-create the sensations and

    emotions of his childhood: "The child stands alone in the garden — (No. 15)"; "The church bell

    is ringing and it terrifies me (the child) — (No. 17)"; "The child sits listening — (No. 13)."

    Much of 1917 was devoted to this problem.

    The surrender to mood, the attempt to present sound and energy in terms of vision, the love

    of the "rustic," the "picturesque," the "melancholy" and the "terrible," the nostalgia for

    childhood, the use of "literary" titles, are all romantic qualities or vices— but there is also in

    Burchfield's art discipline, strength of design and a clarity of purpose which raises these youth

    ful watercolors to a high level of original achievement even as formal inventions.

    7

  • CHRONOLOGY

    1893 Born at Ashtabula Harbor, Ohio, April 9th.

    1898 Moved to Salem, Ohio, where he lived until 1921.

    1911-16 Studied at the Cleveland School of Art. Encouraged by Henry G. Keller. Worked

    during summers and until 1921 as costs accountant in automobile parts company.

    1920 First exhibition in New York made possible by Mrs. Mary Mowbray 'Clarke. Has

    since exhibited in many American cities and in London (1923) and Paris (1925).

    1921-28 Worked as designer of wallpapers in Buffalo.

    Now lives in Garden ville, New York.

    1929 Winter. Work of the Romantic Period (1916-18) rediscovered by Edward W. Root.

    Other watercolors are in the following collections:

    BROOKLYN, Museum of Art

    BUFFALO, Albright Art Gallery

    CLEVELAND, Museum of Art

    NEWARK, Art Museum

    NEW YORK, Metropolitan Museum of Art

    NEW YORK, Museum of Modern Art

    NEW YORK, Whitney Museum

    PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts

    WASHINGTON, Phillips Memorial Gallery

  • CATALOG

    Notes on the pictures are by Mr. Burchfield

    SUMMER RAIN

    19^ x inches

    Signed and dated lower right, Sept. 1916

    Private Collection, New York

    Raindrops like jewels hang on sunflower plants.

    THE CITY

    14 x 19^4 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1916

    Layer after layer of sections of the city extending out to the horizon like long rolling ocean waves,

    cut by the brilliant reflections of sun on polished slate roofs.

    CAT-TAILS

    14 x 19 yi inches

    Signed and dated lower left, 1916 Illustrated

    Cat-tails growing in front of a pile of mine refuse, the March sun shining — lacy trees.

    Painted while home from school on a spring vacation.

    ROGUES' GALLERY

    13^ x 19^ inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1916 Illustrated

    A rogues' gallery of sunflowers in the brilliant, dry sunshine of August.

    DRIFTING DANDELION SEEDS

    14 x 19^ inches

    Signed and dated lower left, 1916

    Collection Thomas Metcalf, Boston

    Winged dandelion seeds scattered obliquely across the overlapping layers of a hayfield by a fresh

    June wind.

    DECORATIVE LANDSCAPE: SHADOW

    19 x 13^ inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1916

    Collection Edward W. Root, Clinton, New York

    Color notes are recorded on the painting.

    DECORATIVE LANDSCAPE: HOT MORNING SUNLIGHT

    13^ x 19^2 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1916

    Collection Edward W. Root, Clinton, New York

    The air is heavy with humidity — the sky covered with a thick mist, on which the sun shines,

    seeming to turn it into brilliant steam; it is one of those oppressively hot mornings which always

    end in a violent thunderstorm in the afternoon.

  • 8 PORTRAIT STUDY— IN A DOORWAY

    25 x 29^ inches

    Painted January 1917

    Collection Ivlrs. Alice IvL Burchfield, Salem, Ohio Illustrated

    Not an attempt to produce a bona fide portrait, but merely a study of a mood in which the

    figure is simply one of many objects.

    9 A FALLEN TREE

    18 x 21 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, Feb. 24, 1917

    Private Collection, New York

    A fallen sycamore tree sprawling over a frozen swamp pond with a wild, haunted marsh tangle

    behind.

    10 THE CONFERENCE

    14 x 19^ inches

    Painted March 3, 1917

    11 WHEAT FIELD WITH TOWER

    22 x 17^4 inches

    Signed and dated lower left, June 1917

    The last rays of the sun on a tower in front of a field of young wheat.

    12 SUNDAY MORNING AT ELEVEN O CLOCK (A recollection of a childhood mood)

    21 x 17^4 inches

    Painted June 1917

    Collection Frank K. M. Rehn, New York

    I had had a quarrel with my Sunday-school teacher, and had run outside. Wishing to avoid the

    embarrassment of having to explain at home my premature return from Sunday-school, I hung

    around in the church-yard until the class was dismissed. A still, hot June morning; the Sunday

    quiet had settled down over the town —-trees stood motionless as if yearning toward the sun;

    the roses drooped in the heat; all things seemed blended in one harmonious whole; I only was

    out of harmony.

    13 A MEMORY FROM CHILDHOOD

    17-5-6 x 22 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, July 28, 1917

    Collection Mrs. Courtlandt D. Barnes, New York

    Long summer noon hours in the woods — the dazzling white sun spreads fantastic shapes over

    the dark floor under the trees — the child sits listening to the hum of insects, dreaming of fairies.

    14 THE AUGUST NORTH (A memory of childhood)

    24 yi x 18^2 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, August 1917

    In August at the last fading of twilight the North assumed to the child a fearful aspect (that

    colored his thoughts even into early manhood). A melancholy settles down over the child's

    world he is as if in a tomb — he thinks all his loved ones are gone away or dead — the ghostly

    white petunias droop with sadness — unnamed terrors lurk in the black caverns under bushes

    and trees as the darkness settles down, the pulsating chorus of night insects commences

    swelling louder and louder until it resembles the heart beat of the interior of a black closet.

    10

  • i5 THE INSECT CHORUS

    20 x 15^ inches

    Signed lower right, 1917— Painted September 5

    Collection Edward W. Root, Clinton, New York

    It is late Sunday afternoon in August, the child stands alone in the garden listening to the metal'

    lie sounds of insects; they are all his world, so to his mind all things become saturated with their

    presence — crickets lurk in the depths of the grass, the shadows of the trees conceal fantastic

    creatures, and the boy looks with fear at the black interior of the arbor, not knowing what

    terrible thing might be there.

    16 PORTRAIT OF MY AUNT EMILY

    27^ x 18 inches

    Painted September 22-26, 1917

    Collection Mrs. Alice M. Burchfield, Salem, Ohio

    Aunt Em's home always fascinated me as a boy— the old grandfather clock with its slow, stately

    ticking — the naive portrait of a black cat — the picture of old'fashioned flowers— the rag carpets,

    etc.

    17 CHURCH BELLS RI N G I N G— R AI NY WINTER NIGHT

    30 x 19 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, December 1917

    Collection Miss Louise M. Dunn, Cleveland Illustrated

    From a letter dated March 5, 1929: "It was an attempt to express a childhood emotion — a rainy

    winter night — the churchbell is ringing and it terrifies me (the child) — the bell ringing motive

    reaches out and saturates the rainy sky— the roofs of the houses dripping with rain are influ'

    enced ; the child attempts to be comforted by the thoughts of candle lights and Christmas trees,

    but the fear of the black, rainy night is overpowering. When I think back on such things I know

    what R means by the 'pang in the middle of the night'."

    18 THE SONG OF THE KATYDIDS ON AN AUGUST MORNING

    17^4 x 21^4 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1917

    Collection Frank K. M. Rehn, New York Illustrated

    A stagnant August morning during the drought season; as the pitiless sun mounts into the mid'

    morning sky the insect chorus commences, the katydids and locusts predominating; their

    monotonous, mechanical, brassy rhythms soon pervade the whole air, combining with heat

    waves of the sun, and saturating trees and houses and sky.

    19 CHILDHOOD'S GARDEN

    27 x 18^ inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1917

    Collection Edward W. Root, Clinton, New York

    A memory of childhood — an attempt to re-create the way a flower garden looks to a child.

    20 THE WINDOW BY THE ALLEY

    18 x 22 inches

    Painted 1917 Illustrated

    II

  • 21 BEECH TREES

    21^4 x 17^4 inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1917 Illustrated

    22 THE SOUTHEAST SNOWSTORM

    17J-4 x ig)4 inches

    Dated lower right, 1917

    23 THE BARN

    14 x 19^ inches

    Signed and dated lower right, 1917

    24 THE EAST WIND

    18 x 22 inches

    Painted January 1918

    The East wind brings rain — to the child in his bed, the wind is a fabulous monster and the days

    of rain on the roof are frightful.

    25 GARDEN OF MEMORIES

    25^ x 22yi inches

    Signed lower right

    Painted August-September 1917

    Private Collection, New York Illustrated

    Crabbed old age sits in front of her black doorway, without hope for the future, brooding.

    Spiders lurk in dark corners; the dying plants reflect her mood. The romantic autumn moon rises

    just the same.

    26 THE NIGHT WIND

    21^4 x inches

    Painted January 1918

    Private Collection, New York Illustrated

    To the child sitting cosily in his home, the roar of the wind outside fills his mind full of visions

    of strange phantoms and monsters flying over the land.

    27 THE FIRST HEPATIC AS

    22 x 27J/4 inches

    Painted March 1918 Illustrated

    It is late March; it has been raining. Walking along through the barren woods in the dusk, I

    come upon the first hepaticas; the drooping unopened buds, exquisite in their delicateness, pre

    sent a striking contrast to the black, evil-looking tree trunks.

    12

  • ILLUSTRATIONS

  • CAT-TAILS, 1916

    14 x 19 J/i inches

  • ROGUES' GALLERY, 1916

    13^ x 19^4 inches

  • PORTRAIT STUDY IN A DOORWAY, 1917

    25 x 29^ inches

    Collection Mrs. Alice M. Burchfield, Salem, Ohio

  • CHURCH BELLS RINGING— RAINY WINTER NIGHT, 1917

    30 x 19 inches

    Collection Miss Louise M. Dunn, Cleveland

  • THE SONG OF THE KATYDIDS ON AN AUGUST MORNING, 1917

    17^ x 21Y inches

    Collection Frank K. M. Rehn, New York

  • 20

    THE WINDOW BY THE ALLEY, 1917

    18 x 22 inches

  • 21

    BEECH TREES, 1917

    21^ x 17^4 inches

  • GARDEN OF MEMORIES, 1917

    25^ x 22^2 inches

    Private Collection, New York

  • mm

    WWwIBii

    THE NIGHT WIND, 1918

    11 % x 21^ inches

    Private Collection, New York

  • THE FIRST HEPATICAS, 1918

    22 x 27^ inches

  • T his catalog was issued April tenth

    nineteen thirty, by the T rustees of The

    Museum of Modern Art, in 7s[ew

    Tor\. One thousand copies.

    PLANDOME PRESS, INC., NEW YORK

  • The Museum of Modern Art

    300061835

    Charles Burchfield : early water colors, April 11-April 26, 1930, Museum of Modern Art, New York